Director: Daniel Nettheim
Writers: Julia Leigh (novel), Wain Fimeri
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, and Morgana Davies
I’m not really sure how long Willem Dafoe has been 48, but he looks physically younger in “The Hunter” (2012) than he did in “The Clearing” (2004). “The Hunter” is the slow burning thriller about a mercenary, Martin (Dafoe), and his mission to hunt down the last Tasmanian Tiger. There have been reported sightings, but nothing confirms that it actually exists.
His employer is a methodical biotech company that only wants tissue samples. They have no concerns for the animal’s well being or the fact that this will inevitably wipe out the species. While in Tasmania, Martin stays in a lodge with a Tasmanian family. This family comprises of two children, a sick mother, and a father who has been missing for quite sometime. He apparently went off to hunt the tiger and never came back.
At first, Martin despises his living situation. He’s easily annoyed by the children, the lodge is falling apart without a father and a sick mother, and the locals hate outsiders. He spends most of his time in the wilderness as he sets traps, tracks, and discovers remnants from other hunters. When he’s not hunting, he’s reluctantly fulfilling the needs of a broken household. He fixes the generator, stocks food for the house, and aids the overly medicated mother. He couldn’t help stumble into an emotional attachment to the family.
This is one of the few movies where every aspect of filmmaking is pretty great. The cinematography is gorgeous to look at, the acting is solid, it has a nice slow burning pace, the characters are heartfelt, and the script is tight and engaging. Even though it’s a slow burner things constantly change and evolve, so I was never bored. Seeing a seemingly emotionless person become attached isn’t new to the world of cinema, but it being done well is exceedingly rare.
Willem Defoe is an anomaly in the acting world. I can’t really recall him staring in anything until recently (“Anti-Christ” and “4:44 The Last Day on Earth”), but I’m going to assume that’s because of his appearance. He had to age into his roles like Tommy Lee Jones or Brian Cox. He was always a solid enough actor to carry a lead and it’s damn right inspiring to see him get top billing. He’s almost in every frame of “The Hunter” and minutes go by with him not saying a word. This might sound weird, but being able to sit and wait for a tiger is an impressive feat for an actor. Good for you Willem Defoe. How many actors can be a nine-foot four armed alien, a grizzled fish, the other person in the insane “Anti-christ,” a gay FBI agent, a classic movie vampire, a spider-man villain, and an unassuming tiger hunter?
“The Hunter” is an all around impressive movie. Keep in mind it’s not ninety minutes of Willem Defoe hunting a man eating tiger. It’s more of a character study with a statement about the environment. This was the director’s (Daniel Nettheim’s) first movie since 2000 and I hope there’s less time until his next one. Sometimes directors are really good a certain aspects of film, but let other aspects suffer. Having everything fall in order is the ultimate directing goal, and he achieved that.
This movie may have one of my favorite interactions with an obnoxious kid. Martin is assembling a gun while listening to opera. Sass (Morgana Davies) then walks into the doorway and asks “what the sad lady is screaming about?” Martin replies with “She’s not screaming. Don’t you listen to music?” Sass says she likes Bruce Springsting and Martin slams the door in her face.
RANDOM NOTE 2
The Tasmanian Tiger is an actual extinct animal, but it’s not a feline. It’s actually a carnivorous marsupial.
RANDOM NOTE TO WILLEM DEFOE
Stick with beards.